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David Abraham MacTaggart lecture: full text

Read the full text of David Abraham's speech, called 'After The Gold Rush: Sustaining creative risk in UK television for the next generation', given at the Edinburgh International Television Festival.

David Abraham: chief executive of Channel 4

David Abraham: chief executive of Channel 4

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Thank you Elaine, Melanie and the Festival Committee for inviting me to give the MacTaggart lecture this year. It’s a tremendous honour to be speaking, both personally and on behalf of Channel 4.

At around the time I started thinking about this lecture, I went to the premiere of Mr Turner, Mike Leigh’s forthcoming movie about one of Britain’s greatest artists. It’s fantastic. It’s going to be one of my creative highlights of the year. It also helped me to clarify what I really wanted to say today. For me, Mr Turner is a love letter to a particular strand of independent British creativity.

It explores Turner’s later life; how his art kept evolving till the end; how he changed the way we see the world and how he dealt with his critics and his admirers. Timothy Spall gives a unique performance of a complex creative soul – prickly, obsessive and deeply human.

In a key scene, Turner is offered a fortune by a tycoon for all his paintings. His polite, but determined, refusal leaves the tycoon speechless. How could he turn down such a once-in-a- lifetime offer? The artist explains: he cannot sell his work because he intends to bequeath it. "To whom?" the tycoon asks. To the British people. To enjoy in one place. Forever. For free.

I think this is a moment that brings out complex feelings that many of us share. We want to do work of quality that earns individual rewards, but work that also matters and is recognised at a collective level. Turner did not die poor; he did well from his art. But he valued it beyond its financial worth – in a way we can all be inspired by.

So, this film pointed me towards the central theme of this MacTaggart: we still possess a unique and precious balance in this country and this industry, between the collective and the commercial value of the work we do. It is something to be proud of, not embarrassed by, and definitely something worth preserving.

Film4, led brilliantly for many years by Tessa Ross, (who speaks here at the festival tomorrow before going off to run the National Theatre), is a co-producer of Mr Turner. When I spoke to Mike Leigh, he explained that months of early development were required, without a script, in collaboration between his cast, art historians and painters.

Film4 paid for that development with what, at the time, was very little clarity about the shape of the project. Mike’s explanation was Film4 in a nutshell: backing original hunches from talented people that go on to challenge and inspire the public.

And behind Film4 lies the Channel 4 Corporation – a globally unique phenomenon – a publicly owned, but independent institution that pays its own way, with a formal remit to innovate, to finance independent producers to take risks.

So, here we have a film about an independent, risk-taking artist, made by an independent, risk- taking director, developed by an independent risk-taking film company, backed by an independent, risk-taking broadcaster; how great, how rare, and how British is that?

In preparing for this speech, I’ve also been looking back on my own working life. There’s a strong thread. I’ve always admired and greatly enjoyed supporting people who repeatedly, almost obsessively, take on the challenge of pursuing new creative ideas. It’s an activity that I’ve been lucky to practice on two continents in three media – advertising, television and film.

Standing up for creative risks in the commercial world is the way I’ve earned my living now for 30 years. I’ve always worked at companies where we believed that an original idea will outshine a predictable one in the end; and that it can make up for not having the biggest budget as well. Such work, which is desirably difficult, creates its own rewards.

When I graduated, I intended to become a documentary producer, but I failed to secure the basic production training I knew I needed – receiving a rejection letter from Middlesex Polytechnic that still hangs on my toilet door at home today.

No matter, a friend of mine suggested advertising as a good alternative path into the creative world – and so it proved – a really great environment in which to learn how to develop ideas with impact. In my very first job in advertising in the 1980s – when 'Don Draper' characters were still in charge – I was told, in all seriousness, to not bother coming back to the office unless the creative work was sold unchanged. This was pretty character forming.

Since then I’ve found myself in some pretty interesting situations. Like when my American bosses took a very dim view in my first month at Discovery Channel for running a series on the science of sex and promoting it with a poster campaign advising that the show would be far from stimulating. Or, when I noticed the look of regret on the faces of the Board of UKTV when I told them, in my first meeting, of my plans to name a TV channel after myself. Or when Louise Mensch hair-dryered me in Parliament for daring to defend Frankie Boyle’s satire.

In each of my jobs, the creative bit and the making money bit (and the relationship between the two), have worked in subtly different ways. As a co-founder of an ad agency in the 1990s, it was about using great ideas – at first just to survive, and then to grow as an independent business.

At Discovery it was about developing a global brand that stood for quality and maximising its value to paying subscribers around the world. At UKTV, it was about balancing the duties of the BBC with the needs of private joint-venture partners.

In each of these situations I was able to observe and learn how differently creativity can be valued. Fear and blame, for example, are both poison to a healthy creative environment. Also, different attitudes towards experimentation – and creative-risk-taking – do separate our culture from that of corporate America.

At Channel 4, I have always believed that defending a tradition of freedom to push creative boundaries in an atmosphere of constructive criticism and support is the number one requirement of the job.

The gold rush

In recent years we’ve seen a parade of Americans standing up here at the MacTaggart telling us how things ought to be done. But, how do you explain the number of US entities queuing up to buy our producers and now, our broadcasters? Doesn’t this suggest that, maybe, as with our gun laws and health system, it’s us who are showing them how it ought to be done?

I believe that it’s the brilliance of how we, in this country, have balanced public and private risk taking that has set free the creativity and talent that the Americans are so keen to invest in. Would Netflix, for example, have bought a show about a murderous politician who broke the ‘fourth wall’ of drama if the BBC hadn’t taken that risky decision, decades before?

My point isn’t to wrap ourselves in a Union Jack – or a Saltire for that matter. It’s about us all focusing on the very principles that have created much of this economic value in the first place – and about us doing the hard thinking now about how to maintain and grow that system in a world which has got bigger and much more consolidated.

2014 could go down as the peak year of the Gold Rush of British Television. In just a few months we have seen a spate of deals that will reshape our industry and alter where decisions get made and by whom. Diversity of ownership on both the supply and the buying side of our industry is reducing rapidly. Consolidation is driving ever-bigger bets.

Our free-to-air channels have become the must-have accessories, the tiny dogs of 2014, amongst US media companies eager to stay ahead of each other by internationalising their revenues, priming their distribution pipes and shielding their tax exposure.

So, Channel 5 now takes its orders from Viacom in New York. Liberty and other US shareholders are trying to play footsie with ITV; which could eventually put Britain’s largest commercial channel in the hands of Dr John Malone, resident of Colorado and who also now controls the UK’s pay-cable platform Virgin Media, our largest producer, All3 and Discovery.

Incidentally, in the interests of widening our pool of MacTaggart bogeymen, he’s also understood to be the largest landowner in America, was nicknamed ‘Darth Vader’ by Al Gore, currently holds a net debt of $41bn and famously, hates to pay tax.

It may be on hold for now but, if Fox, Time Warner and Shine/Endemol all merge, how long before that would subsume Sky Europe (presumably all taking sensitive nuanced direction from a Murdoch in New York)? By the way, such an entity would have combined revenues three-and-a-half times the size of the entire UK television industry. Just think about that for a moment.

TV is clearly now a combat vehicle for tech and mobile companies and platforms to compete with each other, rather than a sovereign industry in its own right. An Apple-Disney merger would substantially dwarf Fox-Warner-Sky.

But, what duties or obligations will these new global gated communities have towards our industry whose future they increasingly influence? What level of accountability and responsibility are we prepared to expect from platforms that operate across technical and geographical boundaries? And how could we expect people whose idea of a good time is a 24-hour code-athon, to relate to the needs of the UK television audience?

Our independent sector, built up and nurtured over decades, is being snapped up almost wholesale and acquired by global networks and sold by private equity investors at a faster rate than tickets to a public flogging of Jeremy Clarkson. Several owners have admitted to me privately that even they, as they sell, cannot fully understand the thinking behind how their companies are valued.

It is estimated that soon the proportion of turnover of UK production that will qualify as ‘independent’ will drop from 76 per cent to around 50 per cent. The term "superindie" has, in effect, become redundant. There are now just indies and studios.

The truth is that UK production has turned in 20 years from an ugly duckling into a very valuable goose indeed – one that, as a result of hard work and talent, has laid some very valuable golden eggs. But, while recognising how powerful and desirable a world force UK production has become, I want to use my speech today to make two crucial points.

Firstly, we might just be kidding ourselves if we think that this all happened by hard work and talent alone. The flowering of UK companies, to push creative boundaries, has been made possible by enlightened politicians and regulators backed by huge public support. That is the remarkable thing. Their wisdom and foresight has created our unique "PSB system", with its plurality of organisations and owners and its variety of missions and business models.

It’s also a settlement through which broadcasters are incentivised to create public service content with the carrot of prominence and access to the airwaves. At the centre of this, of course, is the BBC, funded by the licence fee. We hear a lot from those who would do it down and maybe it should be taking more risks and rattling more cages. Yet when you ask the public, it remains one of the best-loved brands in the country and is seen as good value for money. It has its contradictions, yes, but there’s always much to admire.

My second point is that this system now risks becoming a victim of its own success. While UK production is an undoubted commercial success story, I wonder if it will continue to be a creative one. Scale demands an increased focus on cost-cutting and margins. Reformatting ideas is more efficient than the messy business of finding new ones. Fear of risk overtakes an appetite for it.

Will the next generation of TV execs in this room have the same opportunities as the last? Or will they be so starved of quality scripts that they will have to submit their own police dramas under gender-reversed pseudonyms, like 'Ruby Solomon'? (I look forward to the series by the way). And what about those of you who don’t plan to get rich, but just have a quite reasonable expectation of working in a vibrant industry, and doing interesting and original work?

Risk capital in British television

In addition to the uncertainty that all these deals create, my belief is that much of the value of the companies that are being bought has depended on creative freedom and independence. This in turn blossomed in large reservoirs of creative risk capital. Creative competition has driven innovation – all to the benefit of the UK viewer. The PSBs, of course, aren’t the only broadcasters to invest in UK content.

However, a look at the numbers alone shows who really takes more risks.

Although the total revenues of pay-TV in the UK dwarf those of the PSB sector, 80 per cent of the £1.7 billion spent on original commissions from UK producers in 2013 came from the PSBs. The other 20 per cent of it, £381 million, went to UK indies from multichannel players in total. Meanwhile, Sky alone, gave £750 million back to its shareholders in the last financial year.

Channel 4 is different. Although also commercially funded, it’s a not-for-profit organisation. This means we spend our revenues on screen rather than on shareholders. And, as a publisher-broadcaster, we can and do spend the majority of that through UK producers.

But let’s imagine for a moment what a profit-maximising C4 would look like. To deliver say, a 20 per cent margin, I would take fewer creative risks with far fewer companies. I would push acquisitions, repeats, and ad-funded programmes. And I’d minimise public-service obligations as ITV and Channel 5 have done over the years. I’d have to take a load of production in-house. Obviously. 

But, is that what viewers, producers and advertisers really want? I’m quite sure my shareholders would want it all done quicker than you could say "Dicky Desmond".

Channel 4 has great brand heritage, so some viewers might not notice for a bit. But pretty fast they’d wake up and realise Britain had another Channel 5. Who would Channel 5 copy then?

In Britain we value some things beyond money alone, just as Turner did. That’s always been true in the field of culture and it’s true in other areas as well. When Pfizer made its recent bid for AstraZeneca, concern rapidly crystallised around the risk to the UK’s pharmaceutical research and development base. AstraZeneca is a British company that invests heavily in R&D here. They support a research base, both private and embedded in a raft of university research departments, which pull through the generations of scientists following behind. Most of whom were, doubtless, cruelly rejected by Middlesex Polytechnic.

Once lost, it’s almost impossible to replace. Channel 4 is the UK’s increasingly precious example of this in television – supporting over 350 companies across the UK, generating over 25,000 jobs and driving a significant proportion of the export value of our creative industries.

And, as is evident from the current challenges of local television, building new sustainable models that deliver public purposes is incredibly hard – and rare. Talking of which: London Live. Wow. A channel dedicated to the most vibrant city in the world that gets fewer viewers than a' Poldark' rerun.

In the weeks ahead, we will be publishing a report looking at Channel 4’s risk-taking role in television. One of the many things it looks at is the Government’s approach to stimulating R&D and innovation across all industries. The conclusion? If you didn’t have a Channel 4 in the creative industries already, the strategy would probably lead you to create one.

My personal experience over the past four years has been that the UK Government is a wise owner of Channel 4. It does not interfere with us editorially. Oversight is delegated to Ofcom and their appointed chair and non-exec directors. The system works.

Channel 4 today

In short, we believe in our "not-for-profit model". Most of all though, we believe in our unique public service remit – given to us by parliament: to be innovative and distinctive. Or put another way: to take creative risks. That gave us Trainspotting, GBH, Desmond's, Brass Eye, The Big Breakfast, Ali G, Channel 4 News and Dispatches. Today it’s still giving: Black Mirror, Educating Yorkshire, The Last Leg, The Undateables, Complicit, 12 Years a Slave, and yes, Channel 4 News and Dispatches.

For me, to have been part of the 2012 Paralympics, was extraordinary. It changed forever the way I see the world. And it tells me that the remit is as relevant and necessary now as it’s ever been – even in a world of hundreds of homogenous channels and the internet.

Times change, roles change. In the halcyon days of four or five channels – yes, I can see the mist forming in your eyes down there in the back row – Channel 4 was the Alternative, with a capital A. Yes, we are still here to keep the BBC on its toes. The BBC Trust says we are doing that pretty well in current affairs for example.

That will always be part of what Channel 4 is for. But we also now have a role at the front edge of the mainstream: giving the whole nation new ways of seeing the world. Ways that are challenging rather than familiar; contemporary over nostalgic; and popular rather than niche. What really struck me about the reaction to Benefits Street was how the right and left of the political spectrum, as well as mass audiences, engaged with it.

So, I’d now like to give you a break, and break with the traditions of this lecture (this is a TV festival after all), and show you a piece of inspiring Channel 4 creativity. It’s made by 4Creative our brilliant in-house team led by Dan Brooke.

'Born Risky' – Channel 4

That’s what makes me proud about Channel 4. It’s work that has delivered one of our largest awards hauls ever – across multiple genres. And stronger public approval of the 4 brand than we’ve had for many years. This is the result of the patience and skill of Jay Hunt, her team and all great producers who work with us.

When I arrived at Horseferry Road in 2010, people said Channel 4 was a busted flush: an enormous 'Big Brother'-shaped sink-hole in the schedule and an empty begging bowl in the boardroom.

But, for the past four years, we have kept our annual revenues above £900 million throughout a long recession and nurtured reserves above £200m. We’ve been spending record amounts on UK content and with a very wide range of indies. And, after a period of investing, we will be back in surplus this year.

Channel 4 is now up in peak and portfolio 16-34 share is the highest it’s been for a decade or more. Most of our best rating shows are new ones and we have strong new commercial partnerships with UKTV and BT Sport. Who would have bet on all that when Big Brother ended?

Looking back, perhaps I under-estimated the time it takes to replace franchises on a terrestrial channel. It took ITV time to build their audiences back up and fair play to them on their recent success. But Jay and I are also persistent, while aiming to be different too.

We’ve shown we can deliver the remit with impact and without public money for programmes. And we’ll carry on doing it, even as we evolve creatively, and digitally. Over the past few years, I’ve been encouraging the TV industry to embrace the power of data for example. Hold on. Are you impressed? I held off a good 20 minutes before mentioning the ‘d’ word. A TV channel without a data strategy is like a submarine without sonar and 11 million people have now signed up to 4 – including half of 16-24-year-olds. What’s the point? Well, we can personalise, which works for viewers and for advertisers, and means we can pay for even more programmes.

Control of data also helps fight off those who would burgle the relationship that our viewers have with our brands and your productions. This is how we will all have to compete in the future. Or you could, as a producer, invest your own money in your own content and then share almost half of the income with YouTube. Good luck with that model everyone.

We were innovators with 4oD, but our strategy is has evolved. We think that when broadcasters separate online brands from channel brands, they end up doing the splits. We also think the future is not about either the decline of linear or the rise of on-demand. It will be a blend of both, using the strengths of each. So, from next year we will seamlessly unite all our channels and services in one place in the online world. It will be an elegant design solution to a knotty problem the whole industry faces.

This process of change has shown us what we knew instinctively: that it’s also time to change how we think about our public service delivery. Judging it via Channel 4 alone just doesn’t make sense any longer – it’s analogue thinking in a world that’s gone digital. We’ve gone some way down the road of this being recognised, but we want it to go further. So we’ll be talking to Ofcom about that in the forthcoming PSB Review.

After all, it wasn’t just Channel 4, but our entire digital estate, that delivered the power of the Paralympics. Soon we will do the same with brilliant new dramas from Russell T Davies – Cucumber, Banana and Tofu – telling overlapping stories of different generations of gay people in Britain today. That just could not be done in the days of Queer as Folk.

We are constantly changing the ways in which we reach our audience: via short form, for example, which we have just ramped up. Or on E4. Young people – now the most diverse group in the UK – see it as a terrestrial channel for them. So we’ll invest further in E4 next year: good for them; and good for the PSB system. Not least because there’s radioactive waste stored two miles underground buried less thoroughly than BBC3 will be.

A new public settlement

So, at 4 we plan to keep pushing ahead and keep delivering. And we need new freedoms to keep experimenting. But, we are being asked, by regulators and stakeholders: how can the whole system of which we are a part, (the public service broadcasting system), be strengthened even further – and help create new jobs, new ideas and new thinking for the future of the UK?

Indeed, at least once a decade, we have returned here, to Edinburgh, to this most central of all questions: what is the best way to organise ourselves so as to maximise the creative potential of this medium in this country, and in accordance with our national appetite for creative and distinctive British content?

The more UK content creation there is the better. Everyone wins. It is equally clear that the PSBs are the most effective at delivering it. We spend much more, across more genres, and with more certainty. We also take many more creative risks. It’s baked into our numerical obligations. But it’s also hard-wired into who we are.

Recent government measures have been focused on tax breaks to support inward investment for production in the UK. Bringing American movie and drama productions here is great for jobs in the same way as making iPhones in China is great for China –but the IP and profits are on the firs boat out of here.

In contrast, PSB investment is the nation’s investment – based on our spectrum, and two broadcasters that we, the public, own outright. With the next PSB Review and the next [BBC] charter round we have a critical opportunity to update the PSB settlement for a new era, to strengthen it, and help the whole UK creative economy to continue to grow.

Today, I’d like to talk about two areas we believe can make a real difference. There’s only time to set out some broad principles but don’t worry, Steve Hewlett will be here tomorrow for the Q&A to explain the detail to everyone – including me.

A fair deal on platform relations

The first is a fair deal on platform relations. Many parts of the television eco-system benefit from the PSBs’ huge investment in content, including pay TV platforms, which generated £5.9bn last year in subscription revenues from UK households.

These same households spend, on average, more time watching the box than anything else they do in their lives, apart from sleeping and working. And in total, more of that time is spent watching the PSB channels than any others. So, I think it’s reasonable to say that pay TV customers like what we do.

Which is one reason, presumably, why platforms are already paying fees for our services like E4 HD and 4oD. So let’s consider a simple question: how much do you think the pay TV platforms pay for the most popular services – the core PSB channels? I’ll tell you: ZERO. In fact it’s worse than that; with Sky, the PSBs still have to pay unless they trade valuable services in return. Bizarre, isn’t it?! It undervalues the UK creative economy of which we are all part and that simply cannot be right.

It’s certainly not considered right in other countries. No. In fact the UK is now one of very few major markets in the world where public service broadcasters receive no payment for the immense value their channels bring to pay platforms. Now is the time to correct this and we need new rules to do it. Why more regulation? Why couldn’t this just be an open negotiation between the parties? No pay, no play. The problem with this is that there’s an imbalance in the scale, obligations and incentives on each side of the table.

More significantly, at Channel 4 we face a strong constraint, in terms of our responsibility to the public, not to withdraw our services from platforms. Our unique remit, set out in legislation, together with our duty to be universally available, would undermine what, in the commercial world, would be a straight arm-wrestle.

This is why we need regulation at a minimum to act as a backstop if the parties cannot reach an independent agreement. I look forward to discussing this with Ofcom and with the Government in the months ahead. And I commit, here and now, that Channel 4 will reinvest all of the proceeds of a fair deal back into commissioning more original UK content.

A fair deal on terms of trade

The second area is a Fair Deal on Terms of Trade [the rules governing the relationship between broadcasters and production companies]. At Channel 4 we're proud to have been a key player in developing the UK indie sector and we want to continue to grow it by ensuring fair value is returned to producers for your creative endeavour.

But, as Tony Hall recently pointed out, the old settlement on Terms Of Trade reflected the markets of the time: an absence of competition; strong broadcasters, weak indies; fledgling cable and satellite companies. Today, if Danny Cohen thinks the BBC is dwarfed by the major studios; can you imagine how the world looks from my office?

We agree that it is the right time to step back, reset and ask ourselves questions about what form our relationship with producers should now take.

In doing so we would start from a set of four basic principles:
1. We don't intend to follow others and set up in-house production. (So, breathe easy, one less thing to worry about).
2. That the health and diversity of the indie sector is critical to Channel 4, because of our reliance on it for our lifeblood.
3. Smaller companies need a special level of support and protection when participating in a market characterised by big players, many of whom are connected to broadcasters. Especially when another big beast, BBC Production Ltd, is poised to enter, accompanied by the BBC's call for a 'level playing field'. (Incidentally, when I ran TLC in America, BBC Production was my leading supplier. In my view it would be a mistake to underestimate them)
4.As the market changes around us, flexibility to evolve our deal terms is becoming increasingly important for the future of 4.

We are looking for a regime that allows us to make the best of the opportunity to innovate new digital services. This benefits audiences and advertisers and also allows us to earn a fair return on the risk capital that we invest in developing, commissioning and marketing new shows.

So, we will look to Ofcom to devise measures for a healthy and diverse market for programme supply in the future. Many things won't need to be changed at all - for example, the presumption that indies will own the copyright in programmes, and control how international distribution is managed. Some of the things in the package of support for smaller companies may even represent a more favourable position than exists today.

Other parts of our arrangements will also change - for example in how we make sure that we don't let old definitions of primary and secondary rights get in the way of delivering what we need for advertisers and audiences in the UK.

All of this is designed to grow the total commercial value available and share that value fairly. This enables us to spend as much as we possibly can, investing in new content and, now, directly into creative individuals as well.

The Channel 4 Growth Fund

In my experience, the most creative people would rather stay independent for as long as possible – even if they do have one eye on the long-term exit. Freedom combined with hunger drives creativity. But, in time, ambitious companies also realise the need for capital to expand internationally or beyond a single genre for example. The new Channel 4 Growth Fund is a much- needed facilitator for this stage in the development of creative companies. Our investees remain in complete control of their destinies and are free to act independently in terms of distribution. They are free to work with whomever they like, without output deals tied to us.

I began today by talking about our independent tradition of British creativity. So, I now want to bring this back to some of the creative individuals who generate new ideas in our industry today; the first people Channel 4 is backing directly with the Growth Fund.

PICTURE: This is Colin Moxon, Rory Wheeler and Emma Pierce. They run Popkorn who make great documentaries and branded content. We’re going to help them expand and develop creatively and commercially.

PICTURE. This is Andrew Sheldon, Jess Fowle and Marc Allen. They’ve been developing True North into a prolific and highly respected regional Indie based in Leeds. We’re investing in them to help them to develop and grow on the national and international stage.

PICTURE. John Smithson, Iain Pelling and Tom Brisley have been involved in some of the best specialist factual shows of the past decade. Together they created Arrow and are already active in the UK and US. They now plan to expand into other genres with the help of investment we are making.

PICTURE. Simon Chinn is a London based Oscar-winning documentary producer who set up Lightbox with Jonathan Chinn in Los Angeles. They already have a series in production and are expanding their slate rapidly.

This is a very exciting first wave of great British creative talent backed by the Channel 4 Growth Fund. What we will do is help support their growth over time, and redirect all future returns back into either making more programmes, or investing in new companies. It’s as simple as that.

And, as part of our wider contribution to diversity in British TV, expect to see companies in the Nations and BAME talent receiving serious investments from the Channel 4 Growth Fund as well. To support such companies would be a fantastic legacy of the fund.

Diversity now

Which brings me to the other ‘D’ word: diversity. I speak here as someone whose parents came to this country in the 1950s and I know that this country has given me many great opportunities. At Channel 4 we've had many diversity "firsts": the first black sitcom, the first lesbian kiss, the first disabled and transgender winners of mainstream entertainment shows and the first portrayal of disabled sports people as super-human.

These symbolic game changers have transformed the psyche of our nation, though not of our industry, I fear. As a Board member of Creative Skillset, I was as concerned as anyone that the number of people from ethnic minorities working in TV has been falling. This isn't just a failure of retention; it’s a collective failure to grow our talent pool.

When we get things right, the results are spectacular. Britain’s Steve McQueen becoming the first black director to win the Best Picture Oscar wasn't just a triumph of cinematic art. It was a triumph of imagination over "business as usual." And a moment has come – thanks to Lenny Henry and many others – where we all agree that it's time for change, concerted and collective change.

One big step has been the successful Creative Industries bid for Government co-funding into skills that Channel 4 recently led. This will help to create many new opportunities and develop the careers of thousands of people over the next few years, at entry level and through to Leadership as well. I also fully support the joined up industry approach that the Creative Diversity Network, under Adam Crozier’s leadership, has recently set out.

Next year, through the Silvermouse monitoring system, we will finally know continuously and exactly who is on British TV and who makes it. The lights will go on – and when people see more clearly, they think more clearly. They become more conscious of unconscious bias and minds will open up to new creative possibilities.

We also think there’s merit in the BFI’s ‘three tick’ initiative and we are developing a similar approach for television. We’ll be announcing our own set of detailed proposals, this autumn – aimed at encouraging our commissioners and producers to think even more imaginatively about creative decisions across multiple aspects of diversity and across multiple genres.

In the meantime, let me be clear: a successful diversity strategy is about increasing, not limiting, creative freedom. It's about nurturing new talent, giving voice to untold stories. What we all need now is joined-up action across our industry and that’s why I am so determined to work with my fellow CEOs to push this mission across broadcasting.

After the gold rush

We are a great, creative nation. We thrive in our unique climate of creative freedom and risk- taking. We prize money, yes, but something bigger too. Something that fills not just pockets, but millions of hearts and minds as well. Just as Turner did, almost two hundred years ago. I see that spirit alive today, here, in this room and I’m proud to be part of it.

As the great inventions of John Logie Baird and Tim Berners Lee converge, another great invention of ours – the Public Service Broadcasting system – has created the best conditions for creative programme making on the planet. It has helped turn the content we all create into gold. The world is rushing in and that is wonderful, but a word of warning.

This special landscape of ours did not, as I have said, happen by accident. So we should not assume that, left purely to the market, it will continue to thrive. To keep the PSB system growing we need to nurture, not neglect it.

Today, I have set out ways in which we, Channel 4, are doing that. We aren’t doing it alone, of course. No one single person or company can. We need politicians and regulators to act. They have done it before and they must do it again – or the public will not thank them. So I call on them to act and to act decisively: update and strengthen the PSB system. The system that has delivered so spectacularly for UK viewers and for UK PLC.

And I call on you to do everything you can to persuade them. If you care about creativity: speak up and speak up now. Stay silent and our special system may wither. Once gone, it will never come back. This TV Festival is a wonderful showcase for the very best creative ideas, teams and skills we have to offer today.

At its best it’s where the most important debates begin about what we value and where we are heading next. So I urge, let’s have this debate and let’s have it right now.

To paraphrase Madeleine Albright: "There is a special place reserved in hell for those who succeed, and then don’t put down a ladder for the generation behind." So let’s avoid any risk that someone in a suit might look back from this very podium in a decade or so and say the end of the story began here. Let’s not miss the signs, or screw up the system.

Let’s make damn sure we nurture the potential of everyone here today under the age of 30.

You are television’s Turners of tomorrow – the future of Great British creativity.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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